No ‘hate crimes’ legislation creates barrier to accessing justice

No ‘hate crimes’ legislation creates barrier to accessing justice

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — While some feel recent claims of targeted violence against the LGBTQI+ community are ‘exaggerated’, activists yesterday pointed out that there is no hate crime legislation, which leads to difficulty in reporting crimes to police.

Human rights activists Erin Greene and Alexus DeMarco underscored longstanding challenges members of the gay community face in accessing justice in The Bahamas.

Their comments follow public furor and debate over claims leveled by a Bahamian drag queen who sought asylum in Canada.

Jermaine Aranha, who transforms into Anastarzia Anaquay on Canada’s Drag Race, shared experiences with homophobia at home and being shot three times.

Anaquay tells the other contestants that she also had many friends murdered and shot in the face because of their sexual orientation.

The comments were met with vitriol from some Bahamians, who believed the story was false, and painted the country in a negative light.

Greene told Eyewitness News she believes Aranha’s choice of words may have been “exaggerated”.

She said it’s difficult to conclude whether people in The Bahamas are being murdered just because of their sexual orientation.

However, she stressed that members of the community are constantly bullied, socially marginalized, and harassed verbally and physically because they are queer.

“In terms of murders, I’d say although we had a number of deaths/murders since I’ve been an advocate for 20 years, much longer than that, and I’m not sure any of those murders would fit the narrow description of what would legally be a hate crime,” Green said.

“But at the same time, we have to find a balance between what people’s lived experiences are.

“…I don’t know if what happened to him was an attempt to kill him as well as an attempt to kill him just because he’s gay and in a court of law that would be difficult to prove.”

Greene noted that given that The Bahamas has no hate crime legislation, there is no mechanism to document cases or define a case and difficulty reporting crimes to police.

“From a refusal to provide service, to taking reports but just using the most horrible derogatory language,” she said, adding that she has personally seen incidents of police ridiculing queer people.

“…It’s just an entirely difficult process that in many instances not made easier by police officers that do not have sensitivity training.”

Bahamas Organisation of LGBTI Affairs chair Alexus DeMarco said notwithstanding the response, she believes the matter has opened a much-needed conversation.

“We dance around this topic of LGBTI people and their existence and their value in this country,” DeMarco said.

DeMarco said while many may not agree with Arahna’s choice of words to describe her lived experience, the incident did happen to him personally and people he knew.

She pointed to a longstanding struggle in the community to report hate crimes and attacks because they are met with ridicule or dismissal, making it harder for members to gain justice.

“Their response is if you weren’t like that, this wouldn’t happen to you anyway,” DeMarco said.

She noted however that there is a Shared Incident Database in place where members of the community can report incidents of violence that are documented.

She pointed to a ruling by the Court of Appeal in 2010, which supported the decision of the court to sentence Latherio Jones to three years probation for the killing of Trevor Wilson in 2004.

It was alleged that Wilson made sexual advances towards him.

Dame Joan Sawyer, former President of the Court of Appeal, wrote that “…one is entitled to use whatever force is necessary to prevent one’s self-being the victim of a homosexual act.”

DeMarco insisted that a conversation was needed to erase these false narratives about the community.

She said while The Bahamas has become more tolerant due to world-changing views, the growth does not erase the “culture of homophobia that was rampant in the country”.

“There has been a vast improvement as it comes to LGBTI persons existing in the country,” she admitted.

“There is now a dialogue, we have a generation that is telling you this is who I am, and either you’re going to understand me or you’re not.”

The local LGBTI community had announced plans to host a pride week this year. DeMarco said those plans will continue on October 6 – October 12, but likely in a virtual format due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Pride Bahamas will feature dialogue about violence in the LGBTI community, the stories of persons in these communities, and access to education and justice.

LGBTQI+ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and the “plus” represents other sexual identities including pansexual, asexual and omnisexual.